Planning to tie the knot and searching for an unforgettable honeymoon destination? Definitely consider the spectacular Sabah province in exotic Borneo, the world’s 3rd largest island. Borneo is home to 3 nations- Malaysia, Indonesia and the small country of Brunei. It’s one of only two remaining islands in the world where you can view orangutans in the wild, the other being nearby Sumatra in Indonesia. It’s also the sole habitat of perhaps the world’s strangest looking monkey, the red nosed and big bellied proboscis monkey. Borneo naturally grows romance, featuring the world’s largest flower, the rafflesia, and one of Southeast Asia’s tallest mountains, Mount Kinabalu. Sprinkle in lush tropical rain forests and beautiful beaches and you have all the ingredients for a romantic and adventurous Borneo honeymoon.
As we recently discovered, Borneo is much easier to reach than we previously thought. From Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, Air Asia, Malindo Air and Malaysian Airlines all have many daily flights to several towns on the island. Malaysian Borneo is divided into two provinces- Sarawak and Sabah. While exotic wildlife can be found in both, Sabah’s infrastructure is better suited for most honeymoons than Sarawak or most of the Indonesian part of Borneo. Sabah’s capital of Kota Kinabalu has two airports, and has direct flights between Australia, Indonesia, China, Japan, Thailand and Hong Kong, among other areas in the region.
Kota Kinabalu offers a convenient opportunity to kickstart the relaxing and romantic side of your adventurous Borneo honeymoon. The 5 star Sutera Harbour Resort, conveniently located just outside the hustle and bustle of town, provides world class luxury and stunning views of nearby islands across the sea. The resort features multiple swimming pools, spas, a marina, 27 holes of championship golf, many dining options and attention to detail that makes you feel special. In our gorgeous room at their Pacific Harbour Hotel, with a view overlooking the sea, we were greeted with a charming card welcoming Mr. and Mrs. Kallimanis to the Sutera Harbour Resort. A beautiful fruit basket and delicious chocolate truffles added a loving touch. Our deluxe room was elegantly styled with a luxurious king sized bed and a large bathroom with a seperate shower and bathtub. We loved that wooden shutters could be opened next to the bathtub that allowed you to continue viewing the sea while soaking in the tub. The Sutera Harbour Resort also features suite options, and you can choose rooms that either overlook the sea or the golf course and surrounding mountains. It’s simply a gorgeous place to spend several days of your special once in a lifetime trip.
Kota Kinabalu is a busy town of about 450,00o people and provides the opportunity to sample local delicacies and get a feel for East Malaysian city life. We enjoyed one of the most delicious seafood dinners we’ve ever eaten at the Filipino Night Market, so we highly recommend it for your adventurous Borneo honeymoon. There are tons of open air establishments grilling fresh seafood, but choose where you eat carefully. We chose one of the nicer places, with white tablecloths, albeit still very casual and inexpensive. We selected a snapper fish and took the recommendation that it be cooked in typical Sabah style, with sweet and sour sauce, inside a banana leaf. We’ve eaten a lot of great food in our life, and we both think this is one of the top 5 most delicious meals we’ve ever eaten.
A great day trip from Kota Kinabalu is to island hop around the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine National Park. We only visited the largest of the national park’s islands, Manukan Island, which is still only a few square kilometres. Manukan has lovely beaches to relax and offers a great chance to get your snorkel on, even in low tourist season when many other snorkeling opportunities shut down due to the rainy season. While we did not stay at the Manukan Island Resort, the establishment is run by Sutera Harbour and the area offers beautiful romantic views of the mainland of Borneo.
Many exotic day trips can be taken from Kota Kinabalu, like visiting Mt. Kinabalu, where you can also get up close to the world’s largest flower, the rafflesia. If you’re interested in an even more adventurous Borneo honeymoon, you can also climb Mt. Kinabalu for a 1 day or 2 day hike. While we did not climb the mountain, our friends at Notes of Nomads ventured on the full 2 day climb to the summit and have documented it wonderfully. A more relaxing day trip on offer is the North Borneo Railway, where you can catch a glimpse of village life in a fully restored British Vulcan steam train that recreates bygone colonial times.
From Kota Kinabalu you can catch a quick 50 minute flight to the other side of Sabah to the province’s second largest town, Sandakan. From here Borneo Eco Tours offers an amazing option for your adventurous Borneo honeymoon. You’ll hop aboard a high speed boat from Sandakan that will whisk you down the Kinabatangan River on your way to the multi-award winning Sukau Rainforest Lodge. Along the way you’re sure to view packs of indigenous proboscis monkeys swinging through the trees and crocodiles resting on the river banks. We were extremely lucky that our guide received word that a herd of endangered pygmy elephants were in the area. The driver docked the boat on the river bank and our small group of 6 disembarked to view these beautiful animals on foot from just 50 meters away.
Upon arrival at the Sukau Rainforest Lodge, our boat was greeted by several smiling and waving staff on the dock. We all then received a Malaysian favorite, delicious fresh lime juice, in a beautifully ornate clay jug. As a teenager I worked at the Magic Kingdom at Disney World and the Sukau Rainforest Lodge reminded me of a miniature version of the Polynesian Resort, a Disney property I always admired. Sukau has 20 gorgeous eco designed rooms, many named after famous people who have stayed in them. We were thrilled to be staying 2 rooms down from where the most famous wildlife commentator in the world previously stayed, Sir. David Attenborough of the BBC. Our elegant and spacious room was lovingly designed in Polynesian style, with a jungle view and included wonderful small touches, such as beautifully hand crafted adornments.
The area of the Kinabatangan River where the Sukau Rainforest Lodge is located is one of the best areas in Borneo to view exotic wildlife in its natural habitat. Many small boat jungle cruises are offered and on ours we saw more proboscis and macaque monkeys, crocodiles and snakes. You also have the opportunity to see orangutans in the wild, but as our time at the lodge was short, we unfortunately didn’t see one. We’d also recommend taking the night cruise as we saw cool owls, rare birds, snakes in the trees and baby crocodiles hovering in the water. Meals are included in the packages, and the food is phenomenal. You can dine in traditional Malaysian sarongs (provided in the room) on a deck perched along the Kinabatangan River. The lamb rendang, a traditional Malaysian dish, was one of the top 3 meals we ate during our entire 3 weeks in Malaysia.
In Sandakan we highly recommend the affordable Four Points by Sheraton, which has a rooftop infinity pool and wonderful views of the sea and town. Sandakan is a great base to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, which is an excellent place to catch these wonderful and endangered great apes in their natural habitat. There are 2 feeding times each day, at 10am and 3pm, when previously abandoned orangutans and hungry macaque monkeys will swing by to chow down on bananas and vegetables. There is also a proboscis monkey sanctuary in the area that is worthwhile for a visit. In Sandakan be sure to visit the Fisherman’s village of Sim Sim, to see houses on stilts above the sea and to eat fresh seafood at great prices. We also recommend the English Tea House and Restaurant, which has lovely gardens and a view of town and the sea.
Here’s a 10 day itinerary for a romantic and adventurous Borneo honeymoon (prices valid date of publication)
5 nights in Kota Kinabalu at the Sutera Harbour Resort (prices starting at $850USD for 5 nights)
– half day on the North Borneo Railway ($88USD, per person)
– and/or 1 day all inclusive climb on Mt. Kinabalu ($168USD, per person)
– 1 day snorkelling at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine National Park (from $15 for boat ride and entrance into national park)
– 1 day exploring Kota Kinabalu with dinner at the Filipino Night Market (fresh seafood dinner for two- $25, with non-alcoholic drinks)
– Take an afternoon flight to Sandakan (from $25 USD per person, including 1 bag)
3 nights at the Sukau Rainforest Lodge (from $770USD per person)
– Itinerary is part of the package and includes tours and transfers, accommodation and meals as specified, entrance fees and English speaking guide.
2 nights in Sandakan at the Four Points by Sheraton (from $140 USD)
– Afternoon feeding at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center (entrance $13USD per person, including camera fee)
– Dinner and drinks at the English Tea house watching the sun set over the sea (around $60USD for dinner for 2, with a few cocktails)
We would like to thank the Sabah Tourism Board for helping to arrange many of the activities listed here. A big thanks also to Borneo Eco Tours, Sukau Rainforest Lodge and Sutera Harbour Resort for allowing us the opportunity to experience their amazing tours and accommodations, which allowed us to put together this itinerary.